Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Jill Jenson released her first and self titled CD earlier this year. In doing so she took her first steps into the world of adult contemporary music, a genre that, with only a few exceptions, has done few favors for the majority of female vocalists who have dabbled in it. Yet, in this interesting collection, there is enough to suggest that Jenson could well have a successful career ahead of her. A graduate of University of Miami where she majored in ‘Jazz Vocal’ she returned to her home of Portland Oregon and worked variously as a DJ at KMHD radio, a professional jingle singer and voiceover artist, and as a senior executive and consultant with both AT&T Wireless and Microsoft. This very untypical grounding for a fledgling singing star led to a fortunate turn when, in 2002, she hooked up with her old college friend Tim Cashion who has written and produced for the likes of Bob Seger, Robert Palmer and Grand Funk Railroad. She quit her job and starting working toward what has culminated in the release of her debut CD. Produced by Cashion, and with twelve of the fourteen tracks written or co-written by him, the album also benefits both from the executive production expertise of Matt Pierson and contributions from a stellar line up of backing musicians.
Pierson has been around and, having worked with Bob James, Joshua Redman and Michael Franks, knows what good contemporary jazz should be. This savvy is evident as early as the opening track, the Cashion composition ‘Sunshine Away’. It is tight and pleasing with Jenson’s warm vocals shining through. Earth Wind and Fires ‘That’s The Way Of The World’ is the first of the albums two notable covers and Jenson carries it off in fine style. In this she is helped, in no small part, by the excellent Marc Henderson and Dave Quackenbush on sax and trumpet respectively.
Although from time to time Jenson flirts with ballads, both she and the band are clearly at their best when seeking out a quicker tempo R & B groove. Jenson has the depth of voice to inject a little soul and does so nicely with the Swing Out Sister (ish) ‘Little World’. ‘If You Don’t Love Me’ has a catchy chorus and well-blended horns while ‘Find My Way’ has an infectious Latin vibe, tight production qualities and more great sax from Henderson. As said, Jill Jenson can cover quite a range of feeling and style. With the contemporary ‘100 Percent’ she is deliciously jazzy yet, on the gentle ballad ‘A Place In His Heart’, almost evokes the sound of Karen Carpenter.
Best track is the Gray, James, Vale composition, ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’. This mid tempo cover of the old Tommy James and the Shondells hit features the guitar of Chuck Loeb. It has a 5th Dimension thing going on and is definitely one to watch out for.
A two-year project in the making, the CD was recorded at Cashion's Cottage Lake Studio in North Carolina, with some additional sessions in New York City. The wait has been worth it and now offers Jill Jenson the chance to step into the adult contemporary limelight.
For more on Jill Jenson and for details of how to buy the CD go to www.jilljenson.comPosted by Denis Poole at July 9, 2006 9:04 AM